How to heal after a traumatic birth

I know when I was preparing for the birth of my first child, I had very clear (and rather inflexible) expectations about how I wanted the birth to go, how I expected it to go. I was living in Asia at the time and very conscious of the highly medicalised approach that was commonplace so I almost reeled in the opposite direction and committed myself to not allowing this intervention to be thrust upon me. I took the calm birth course, I practiced my visualisation breathing. I talked through the contingent pain management plans with my husband. But alas, these best-laid plans were thwarted by numerous circumstances outside our control. I will spare you the details, but in essence it felt like I had lived through a car accident alive. It was not until much later on when I fell pregnant with my second child that I realised the impact that experience and went on a journey of trying to process the thoughts, the emotions and my reactions that were playing out.


Research indicates that up to one third of women find their birthing experience traumatic. It may be that you did not experience your birth plan, your maybe you had unwanted interventions such a caesarean, an instrumental birth or perhaps pain medication was not available. Your trauma may not even relate to the physical birth itself but an interaction with someone at the birth. Trauma comes from many sources.


No one chooses a traumatic birth (and even a ‘normal’ birth can be traumatising) but you do have choice in how you process it. It is very common for women to feel bad about their experience and keep it private – not wanting others to judge their emotional reactions. As we near the end of Birth Trauma Awareness week, I wanted to share with you a number of different ways that can help you to come to terms with the birth experience of your child, understand the impact and move towards healing. Birth may just be one day but the effects of trauma can extend well beyond this.


  1. Share your story. Talking through your experience can help to make sense of it. By putting words to your experience you get the opportunity to link the events, to your thoughts and feelings. It often results in others opening up about their own experience, which can reduce feelings of isolation and shame and offer opportunity for validation, release and acceptance. Retelling your story can be done in conversation and writing but even through other creative avenues such as drawing, music and dance.


  1. Read about the experience of others after a traumatic birth. It is very easy to feel alone or feel confused by your emotions. You are not alone. Connecting with the experience of others often helps to better understand and order your thinking about your personal experience. Websites like present diverse narratives and there are many other online forums where you will find different stories with which you can connect.



  1. Reconsider the story of your birth and see if you can identify any positive elements to the experience. This is not about finding a silver lining but negative information and experience is like velcro. It sticks and can crowd out and make us blind to positive information. It is worthwhile seeing if there were elements or stages of your birth that you can connect with positively.


  1. Review the medical information about the birth. If you feel unresolved and confused by the chain of events that took place, it can help to gain clarity from your care providers as to why decisions were made or certain actions were taken. Check your memory against others who were involved in your treatment or present. Please note that it is important to proceed carefully as this may be triggering and even re-traumatise you. This may be best done with a psychologist or counsellor.


These ideas are not exhaustive or fail-safe but they offer you ways to engage with your experience and your emotions around the birth of your child. If you or someone close to you is concerned about how you are coping, it is important to seek professional help from a GP and psychologist.


An incredible resource for anyone who feels like they have had a traumatic birth experience is  How to Heal a Bad Birth by Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould. Their website is For more resources, please visit our resources page.


Written by Belinda Williams



5 Ways to Prevent Burnout in Motherhood

After a decade of working in and consulting to organisations around workplace wellbeing, I shifted into the world of motherhood…

As I stood in the playground listening to the physical and mental symptoms being described by the women around me, it was all too familiar… physical ailments, emotional outbursts, catastrophic and negative thinking, feelings of helplessness, insomnia. They were burnt out. We all know that motherhood, with all of its bright spots, is undeniably relentless. So what can you do to prevent burning out? Read on for my top tips for taking care of yourself.

1. Learn to soothe your nervous system in the moment

If we stop for just one moment, you may recognise the signs of stress – tension around the shoulders, chest or head, short and shallow breaths, low energy, reduced libido, upset stomach, unusual eating patterns, irritability. These are all signs that our sympathetic nervous system is switched on – we are ready for fight or flight. Routinely check in on how you are feeling. When you notice you are stressed, you can intentionally try to calm your nervous system. The quickest and easiest method is via the breath – notice the sensation of breathing and try to elongate the breath in for a count of five, pause for a count of five and exhale out of the count of five (known as 5/5/5 breathing). Other tools to practice include mindfulness, keeping an eye on the level of stimulation in our day – food (sugars, processed food), drink (alcohol, caffeine) and also our visual diet (social media, screen time).

2. Initiate a self-nourishment routine

Self-care routines are individual – whether it’s a bath, a candle, listening to a playlist, time in the ocean, in the sun or a cherished glass of wine in the evening (note, one glass!). Brainstorm how you can prevent or remedy stress and fatigue and plan how frequently you get to engage in these activities. If you notice you are lacking and want to commit to change, it’s important to start small. This gives us the greatest chance to succeed and build confidence. Marking ‘x’ on a calendar on the days that you have carried through on your commitment is a great visual cue and often promotes an inner motivation to see more ‘x’s.

3. Prime yourself for positivity

We are primed to select negative information in our environment. In fact, we process negative information five times faster than positive information! So when we are trying to remedy stress, we need to look to ways to work against this bias and attend to the positive. A good and widely reported technique is to identify three things that went well in your day at bedtime. The mechanics behind this activity is that it sends your mind looking for events, interactions and actions in your day that are positive and meaningful for you. You will also start to seek out these events proactively during the day knowing that you need to report on them in the evening – you will become more aware of instances of things going well. To boost the effectiveness of this, I recommend that you physically write it down or tell someone, maybe your partner or make it a commitment with a friend. We know that positivity is contagious, so in making this a shared activity, you are also enabling the wellbeing of those around you.

4. Be strategic about routine

Routine and children – I can see you rolling your eyes! Bare with me. We know that the more decisions we have to make on a daily basis, the more fatigued we become. With this in mind, it is important to look for opportunities in your day to reduce the need to choose between the endless options available. At the end of the day, consider, ‘what can I plan for tonight in the next 10 minutes that will make my day easier tomorrow’. It may be your outfit, your meals, the park you are going to visit, whether you are going to check work emails and when or how much social media you choose to indulge in. The less frequently you draw on your decision making powers in advance, the greater conviction you will have in the momentary choices you make and the better energy levels you will enjoy.

5. Give yourself permission and a ‘budget’ for being unproductive

Women often find it difficult to detach from their pre-children self-concept of the ambitious, high achieving and reliable doer. The problem with this is that parenting intimately ties you to the emotions, health, preferences and “routine” of another little person. And the smaller the person, the less predictable and less apparent control we have. While I am not asking you to surrender to endless years of being unproductive, it’s important to consciously revisit your priorities and capacity after having a child/children. Giving yourself permission to redefine success in a day and scheduling time to be unambitious can be game changing. It unlocks pent up pressure and frustration to be on the front foot and results oriented all the time. While this can be challenging, remember that the wonder of motherhood can be in the process, not the end result. A sole focus on the end result thwarts the process and in doing so robs you of the quality, the connection and the opportunity to savour the present moment.

Negativity and stress can cascade and if you are serious about overcoming or avoiding burn out, it’s important to be able to break the cycle of negativity that when left unchecked can become pervasive and insidious. Shifting to a position of awareness, intention and self compassion can take time and may feel like more of an effort in the short term however in my view the benefit of this discomfort well outweighs the discomfort and difficulty of being burnt out and the detrimental impact this can have on your relationships, physical and mental health and that of those around you.